What is mental health?
Your mental health describes your emotional wellbeing – how you think and feel, and how you deal with everyday stresses. It’s just as important as your physical health. Like your physical health, it can get better or worse and change as your situation changes.
How common are mental health problems?
Mental health problems in older adults are very common, although different types affect different numbers of people. Depression is the most common, affecting around one in four older people, and as many as two in five people living in care homes. Anxiety affects around one in 10 older people.
What can affect my mental health?
As you get older, painful events or changes in your situation may make you more vulnerable to low mood, depression and anxiety, and other mental health conditions. For example:
- ill health
- taking certain medications
- relationship breakdown
- bereavement and loss
- becoming a carer
- loss of independence
- finding it more difficult to do the things you used to do
- feeling more vulnerable as you get older – at risk of scams for example
- loss of daily routine and social contact following retirement
- money worries
- moving house, including moving to a new area or moving into a care home.
Sometimes, there might not be an obvious cause at all.
Where should I go for help?
If your negative feelings don’t go away or you’re having trouble coping with them, you may benefit from some help and support. You could:
- talk to your GP
- tell someone you trust
- call an emotional support helpline like Samaritans (116 123) or The Silver Line (0800 4 70 80 90)
- call a specialist mental health helpline like Rethink (0300 5000 927) or Mind (0300 123 3393)
If you feel you can’t go on
If you start to think that you’d be better off dead or that you want to harm yourself, seek help immediately. Contact your GP or ring NHS 111, or call Samaritans on 116 123 for 24-hour confidential support.
If you need help to look after yourself
If you’re finding it difficult to look after yourself, make sure you’re getting enough support. Ask your local council for a care needs assessment, which will work out what your care needs are and how they might be met.
If you’re a carer, find out about the practical, emotional and financial support available to help you in your caring role – see our Support for carers section.
If you're worried about money
If money worries are making you feel anxious, make sure you’re claiming all the benefits you’re entitled to. Call our Helpline to arrange a benefits check or try our benefits calculator. You could also visit the Mental Health and Money Advice Service for advice and help.
Help with specific problems
If you’re worried about a specific problem or you’ve been through a difficult situation, there may be a specialist organisation that can help. For example:
• Relate for relationship advice
If you need help to express your views or to get the support you need, you may benefit from the help of an independent advocate. Ask your local council for details of advocacy services in your area or contact the Older People's Advocacy Alliance. In some situations, you may have a legal right to an advocate.
How can I look after my mental health generally?
There are things you can do to improve your mental health and help you stay well. For example:
Loneliness and isolation can contribute to mental health problems, so try to stay in touch with people. Find ways to increase your social connections, such as doing a course or taking up a new hobby. Doing things you enjoy can help take your mind off your worries.
Regular activity can really benefit your mental health. Staying active can give you more energy, boost your mood by releasing feel-good chemicals in the brain, help you to eat and sleep properly and generally improve your physical health. Find the activity that works for you, for example:
- gardening or housework
- walking or cycling
- tai chi
Talk to your GP before starting a new exercise routine, especially if you’re not used to regular exercise.
Watch your diet
Eating a healthy diet can have a positive effect on how you feel. Avoid high-sugar food and drink and too much alcohol, try to eat a balanced diet, stay hydrated and get your recommended five portions of fruit or veg a day.
Increase your sense of purpose
Volunteering is a great way to meet new people while helping a cause you care about. Independent Age looks for volunteers to make regular friendship calls to older people – see our Get involved section – or you could search for volunteering opportunities in your area at Do-it.org. Helping others is good for your mental health and many organisations need volunteers.
If you can, spending time in nature for just a couple of hours a week can really help your health and wellbeing. Contact your local Mind to ask about ecotherapy programmes, which involve doing outdoor activities such as gardening, conservation or arts and crafts or ask your GP if there is one in your area they can refer you to.
Get enough sleep
If you’re having problems with this, try changing your routine. Follow the self-help tips on the NHS website or speak to your GP.
You could also learn relaxation techniques and breathing exercises to help you to feel calmer. You can find breathing exercises for stress on the NHS website.